Siddiqi (2009): Do Bangladeshi factory workers need saving? Sisterhood in the post-sweatshop era

LOVED this article. Evaluating the politics behind the female workforce behind Bangladesh’s garment industry. Click here.

Notes I done made (these were made when researching my dissertation topic so not everything in the paper will be included here, just bits that were relevant for me and points I found interesting):

  • Globalisation is the site for the recolonization of peoples (Mohanty, 2003)
    • global economic and political processes have become more brutal, exacerbating inequality


  • Genealogy of the sweatshop worker:
    • In the mid 80s documentation of workers’ conditions emerged, which reduced women workers to an emblem of exploitation rather than the subject of exploitation, this approach was adopted by activists
    • Women workers seen as homogenous, faceless and voiceless, more personality and action given to capitalists and patriarchy than workers (Ong, 1988)
  • Exploitation of women embedded in social relations, including patriarchal relations
  • In multinational production, women gain autonomy in some areas, but face increased surveillance in other areas- contradictory/inconsistent effects


  • The politics and perils of ‘saving’ Bangladeshi workers
    • Anti-sweatshop movements deploy language of horror, workers seen as helpless, are sexualised and victimised- fits into pre-existing rhetoric about conditions of workers and need to save them so may be effective, its easier for West to digest than complex discussions of reality
    • But these narratives work against interests of workers they are designed to ‘save’
    • Strategies to save workers problematic e.g. boycotts of goods because of chid labour have worsened conditions for children who got involved in more dangerous occupations and other means to make money for their family
    • Nazma Akter: the North want overnight solutions they can feel good about. They also think they can tackle all problems at the same time- unwilling to see complexity and interrelationship of matters
    • Current international interventions put pressure on factory owners to increase wages without increasing amount Northern brands pay for goods, real cost falls on workers, who must work harder and longer to make up for the loss to profits from increased wages


  • From aid to trade: Globalisation in Bangladesh
    • External factors that helped the garms industry- the Multi-Fibre Arrangement, global recession, relocation of manufacturing industries from Taiwan and South Korea, civil war in Sri Lanka
    • Bangladesh had the most liberal investment policy in South Asia
    • General acceptance of capitalist development (shaped by neoliberal policy) that led to rise in export-oriented garment work-> little criticism of impact of neoliberal policies on women’s lives
    • Empowerment under neoliberal framework presented as being a self-enterprising subject, and garms industry seen as a step towards this empowerment
    • International trade has led to job security and vulnerability to problems in the global market among workers in BD. For example, when the American market faced a downturn this affected workers in BD
    • Siobhan (2003): after trade liberalisation, aid dependency became trade dependency
    • Dismantling of Multi-Fibre Arrangement led to a fear of a phase out of the garment industry in Bangladesh, resulting in increased policies to liberalise trade, to encourage investment
    • Bangladesh is therefore captive to the operations of an unequal trade regime, Northern countries can test how much BD is willing to pay to gain access to their market
    • Garment workers have created change without the help of international pressure


  • Shifting discourse on the Golden Girls of Bengal
    • Women in garms industry show empowerment from traditional patriarchal structures through employment, becoming self-reliant
    • BD gov used presence of women working to present itself as a moderate Muslim country to the  USA to encourage continued investment in the garms industry during the War on Terror, also suggested lack of investment would threaten female empowerment (resonating with neoliberal, anti-terror agenda)
    • Workers seen as a sign of BD’s modernity through their bodies, not labour
    • Fear of lack of employment of female garment workers among middle-class -> corruption of moral order of society otherwise, as the undisciplined, immoral working class females would corrupt society if not in the industry e.g. resorting to prostitution, feeding bourgeois perceptions of working class


  • Bodies, sexualities and livelihoods
    • International corporations draw on existing gender ideologies to recruit, discipline and reproduce their workforces
    • Women policed through moral regime, where women are separated between good and immoral women
      • Sexualised regime of harassment to keep women in place- those who do not speak out (morally disciplined/’good’) are protected, those who challenge norms (immoral) vulnerable to managerial sexual harassment
      • Garment factories compared to electronic factories -> smaller garment factories have most sexual harassment, sexual coercion and intimidation. Explained by frenzied apce of production because of tight delivery schedules and shortened lead times, coercing of workers to meet targets
      • Smaller factories have smaller profit margins, increased time and financial pressures, as they are usually subcontracted factories
      • Export processing zones found to be large, financially stable and under watch by rights groups, so less likely to have sexual harassment, but are still highly regulated
      • Small factories have less surveillance so there is less accountability
      • Sexual coercion and discipline used to ‘discipline’ lazy ad morally lax workers
      • Electronic factories have regular deadlines, with no fluctuations in market demand, and need a quiet environment and focus, less likely to have a violent atmosphere


  • Need to be aware of differences between places and spaces
    • Take into consideration workers own experiences and desires, differences usually erased
    • Need to pay attention to discursive structures that inform global activism



Anner (2018): Binding Power: The Sourcing Squeeze, Workers’ Rights, and Building Safety in Bangladesh Since Rana Plaza

Very important research evaluating whether working conditions have improved in Bangladesh since the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013. Click here.

Notes I done made (these were made when researching my dissertation topic so not everything in the paper will be included here, just bits that were relevant for me and points I found interesting):

The sourcing squeeze and apparel supply chains

  • Trade liberalisation after Multi-Fiber Agreement -> garment industry had to push down costs to compete with China’s workers
  • Power imbalance between suppliers and buyers(brands)
    • Price squeeze- brands seek to lower prices paid to their suppliers- leads to wage decline and poor working conditions
    • Lead time squeeze- brands demand goods are produced in shorter periods
  • Price decline in amount paid for produced goods in Bangladesh, price squeeze by companies- not a result of external features

Profits, lead times, payments and order specifications

  • Decline in profit margins for suppliers as a result of increased production costs, as brands do not want to financially support increased production costs
  • Push for shorter lead times (time given for factories to make and shift a product) -> because brands keep wanting to push out new styles to sell more products (fast fashion model), retailers looking for greater speed
  • Increased pressure on suppliers to meet demands for products and speed especially when lead times are adjusted at short notice, leads to forced overtime and unauthorised subcontracting
  • Research shows lead times have reduced

Sourcing squeeze, wages and workers’ rights

  • After Rana Plaza -> increased minimum wage from 3,000Tk to 5,300Tk, but still lowest among garment industries globally
  • These low wages still don’t cover living needs
  • Still issues with labour law e.g. December 2016 protests, which led to arrest and dismissal of workers. International pressure on BD government to stop persecution of workers e.g. European Parliament passed resolution that BD needed to address persecution of trade union leaders and poor working conditions
  • International pressure led to some labour law reforms e.g. easier for trade unions to register
  • Increased unionising after Rana Plaza after international pressure, but there is an increased tendency of the  BD gov to deny union registration and continued anti-union practices by employers
  • Since 2000, there has been an increase in violation of workers’ rights, increased following Rana Plaza collapse

Accord on Fire and Building Safety

  • Significant progress in building safety because of the Accord
  • Brand are legally bound to the Accord
  • The Accord Steering Committee consists of trade union reps, brand reps, and the ILO as a chair- oversees operations, and decision by consensus/majority vote
  • Advisory board-> representatives from supplier factories, sourcing agents, Ministry of Labour, trade union federations, brands, BD civil society organisations
  • When a building is found to require an evacuation for immediate remediation, recommendation is sent to a Government Review Panel, who can overturn the decision
  • Transparency: information provided on factories, progress updates, worker complaints, steering committee meeting minutes, advisory board meetings
  • Safety committees- worker-manager committees, encourage worker participation, involved in safety training etc. Not democratic as agreed in the Accord
  • Complaint mechanism: worker complaint mechanism elevates workers’ voices
  • Binding Arbitration: Legal incentive for brands to meet obligations e.g. two cases held against brands for failing to meet requirements of the agreement resulted in settlements in both cases

2018 Accord

  • Aims to ensure BD gov and state institutions have the capacity to ensure building safety for all factories
  • State system of regulation needed
  • Safety committees and training for all factories
  • New: training on freedom of association and role of industrial relations
  • Potential expansion

To what extent can the Accord be considered a ‘Game-Changer’? [Essay]

On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1100 garment workers, and injuring around 2500. This shocked the world, as the public demanded a change to the working conditions that created this disaster. Indeed, attempts had previously been made to create an agreement to ensure effective health and safety standards, however it was this horrifying event, and increased consumer pressure, that sped up the process, resulting in the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (Clean Clothes Campaign, 2013).

Continue reading “To what extent can the Accord be considered a ‘Game-Changer’? [Essay]”


Hey guys, another Fashion Factfiles post!

This month, I’m changing it up a bit. We won’t be looking at issues within the production of garments themselves, but rather what happens to much of our clothing once we’re done with them and have donated it to charity.

Oh you thought they’d all be sold and bought by people to reuse?

Not exactly.

Welcome to another episode of: Calling out the West and its neo-colonial practices!

Continue reading “Fashion Factfiles #4: WHERE DO YOUR DONATED CLOTHES REALLY GO?”

Why I stopped advocating Fairtrade

Hey guys!

So it’s the middle of Fairtrade Fortnight, and what better way to celebrate than with a blog on why Fairtrade ISN’T that great yay!


Ngl, I really hate raining on people’s parade; I know how it feels being so passionate about Fairtrade, it’s purpose, how you’re changing people’s lives etc. Believe me, your girl was part of her borough’s Fairtrade group and used to go round selling Fairtrade Palestinian dates (they bang). However, to then be presented with a lot of fundamental issues revolving Fairtrade, how can I, as someone who wants to do right to workers around the world, ignore this and continue campaigning just to feel that satisfaction of doing ‘something’, regardless of whether it was effective?

By now I’m sure the ethical scene think I’m trolling them lol but honestly, I hope most of you will understand why I’m eager to address why Fairtrade presenting themselves as a solution to poverty reduction is problematic.

Anyways, I’m gonna end that monologue, and get straight into it. LEGGOOOO.

Conditions in Fairtrade farms aren’t that fair tbh

See the source image

Professor Christopher Cramer from SOAS university conducted research evaluating the impact Fairtrade has had on its producers in Uganda and Ethiopia to find some shocking results. 

So Fairtrade emphasise how we as consumers can help small-holder producers (farmers with small farms) out of poverty by increasing their income from crop production. However, Fairtrade tend to paint all small-holder producers with the same, romanticised brush (that’s the phrase right?), ignoring the fact that all farmers and their holdings are different, with different conditions, characteristics etc. (standard Western approach to the Global South). 

For example, some small-holder producers actually operate on land at least 20x larger than others, and even employ many workers. This goes against the stereotypical Fairtrade, romanticised image of a small-holder farmer working hard producing with his family on a small farm right? In fact, these capitalist farmers, with hired labour and particular farming methods, dominate production, and receive a lot of aid and support, due to their ability to produce more.

Farmers are part of a cooperative (association owned and run jointly by its members) where benefits and profits from Fairtrade should be shared equally. However, in reality, it is the small group of large producers just mentioned who usually occupy leading roles in the cooperatives, controlling distribution of resources. Instead of incorporating the poor, these cooperatives encourage elitism, with power at the top. And yes, they are usually men.

Another thing. You may be aware that Fairtrade adds a premium onto the price of their products, which is meant to be invested into development projects, to be decided democratically by producers or workers. However, these premiums usually go towards investments that benefit the largest producers and sellers. Several shocking examples are mentioned. In one case, the premium was used to build a health clinic, but only those who were employed permanently could use it, excluding many of the poor people living nearby who were hired temporarily (e.g. seasonal workers), and were required to pay a fee they could not afford. 

“James, is desperately poor and lives with his elderly father in an inadequate shack close to the tea factory. Although his father was once a temporary worker at the tea factory, James is charged fees at the tea factory’s Fairtrade health clinic. He cannot afford them and instead, although he only has one leg, he hobbles more than 5km to receive free treatment at a government clinic.”

In another case, flush toilets made with premiums could only be used by senior management. 

One finding that is particularly shocking, is the fact that workers in non-Fairtrade farms were actually getting better wages, and treatment, than those producing the same products in Fairtrade farms. For example, female workers in Fairtrade sites were paid 70% of the daily wage earned by those in non-Fairtrade sites, and were offered fewer days of employment. In addition, in Ethiopian farms, only 1% of those working in Fairtrade sites received payments for medical care compared to 11% in other sites and 56% in large-scale state farms. 

There are also reports of poor monitoring of conditions in the farms, allowing these practices to continue. In the only Fairtrade certified estate in Ethiopia, workers’ rights were ignored and management were able to avoid the half-hearted attempts of Fairtrade executives to promote the employees’ interests.

So considering Fairtrade’s passion for poverty reduction, you’d think they would be extremely concerned and grateful for such a report highlighting these alarming findings. APPARENTLY NOT.

Yeh, Fairtrade were pissed. They were extremely defensive, attempted a smear campaign against the researchers, even making a legal threat against them and sending hostile letters. 

It continues a relationship of dependency 

Related image

Agro-ecology is a new means of production on farms, applauded by many. It refers to the transition of farming methods from those that focus on producing food to export (send to other countries i.e. the West) using fossil-fuelled methods, to those that encourage production for personal consumption and the local market via more sustainable practices e.g. recycling nutrients. By using such methods and by producing for local consumption and local markets, this reduces farmers’ reliance on external inputs (e.g. fertilisers) and income (e.g. producing solely to make income by exporting produce to the West). Indeed, by producing in a way that allows farmers to actually consume their own produce as well as sell it in their local markets and export, this reduces their dependency on Western markets to help them survive. Fairtrade relies on farmers producing for export purposes, and does little to support farmers in reducing their dependency on the West, in particular, prioritising food sovereignty (the right of people to produce, distribute and consume healthy food in and near their territory in a sustainable manner). Instead, it relies on the very export-production system that encourages dependency, and denies farmers the right to expand beyond small-scale production for Western consumers.

I mean, imagine the abundance of food produced in the Global South, yet the very farmers producing these crops are impoverished and malnourished. Does that not sound ridiculous to you?

Colonial roots


Image result for fairtrade parliament

 In Ian Hussey’s anti-capitalist critique of Fairtrade, he argues that Fairtrade marketing reinforces colonial distinctions between the poor Global South farmer and benevolent Global North consumer, failing to address the structures that produce the impoverished state of farmers in the first place. 

He explains that the distribution of power in fair trade is similar to colonial divisions of the globe, with Fairtrade’s focus on former colonies, to be sold in mainstream markets, where decision-making is concentrated. In 2011, 19 of the 24 members that composed Fairtrade International were based in the Global North, with producers having little say in policies, structure and direction of the Fairtrade movement. By producing a system to ‘save’ workers, where most of the decisions are made by the Global North with little say from the very workers its supposed to save, there is literally a red alarm going off screaming neo-colonialism (control of less-developed countries by developed countries through indirect means). 

Fairtrade, therefore, cannot be a means to end poverty, because it continues the global power imbalance of workers in the Global South as dependent on the global North, and most importantly maintains this dependency through perpetuating these divisions, allowing and justifying further control from the North.

Supports the richest

Image result for greed mr krabs

So lets not deny that the West benefit more from profits made by Fairtrade. Fairtrade is a multi-billion pound business with executives in the UK earning around 500 times the annual amount earned by the workers who produce its commodities. Most of its expenditure goes towards public education and awareness, with its branding and advertising contracted out to a company with clients including Nike and Coca-Cola. The company is loaded. In 2008, with an income of £7.2m, more than £2.1m went on public education and awareness. 

Moreover, while advertisements tend to focus on African and Asian farmers being ‘liberated’ by Fairtrade, the truth is, most of their business is done with Latin America. This is not to undermine Latin America and the need for investment, but Ndongo Samba Sylla argues that by favouring Latin America, Fairtrade are favouring richer producers at the expense of the poorest. She argues that since Fairtrade aims to help those already on its ‘path’, the poorer countries it advocates are often neglected as a result. In doing so, Fairtrade is serving and trading with the rich, supporting wealthy farmers at the expense of poorer countries.

Let’s not forget the costs of membership, which entail the cost of certification, annual inspections and compliance with Fairtrade organisational structures. In one cooperative, an executive admitted that after paying for the cooperatives employees and programmes, there was nothing left for individual farmers.

2 Conclude

Image result for fairtrade poverty

For me, the problem with Fairtrade is the fact that it acts as a means to reduce poverty and implies that we as individuals can be part of that change through our consumer actions. While we can probably make lives a bit better, once again we are drawn into the neoliberal ideology that we as individuals and our individual actions are responsible for the worlds problems, taking our attention away from the systematic issues of capitalism and dependency that perpetuate the exploitation of workers.  While workers are often the face of the movement, the research above shows the reality of Fairtrade for many workers, and the response from Fairtrade indicates a corporate mindset. Through alternative methods such as agro-ecology, this emphasises the importance of workers sustaining themselves and reducing dependence on the West for survival, which would create a more long-term impact on the lives of workers as opposed to Fairtrade.

Most importantly, I want us to change our stance towards Fairtrade as the means by which we will achieve justice, review the colonial connotations of movements that try to ‘save’ workers without acknowledging the agency of workers themselves and their rights, and the need to go beyond dependency on the West. This isn’t an attack on anyone. This is an attack on the system that is allowing such rhetoric to blind us from the structural problems that continue the extraction of commodities at the expense of workers’ rights, in the name of ‘philanthropy’.




Cramer, C. et al (2017). Fairtrade cooperatives in Ethiopia and Uganda: Uncensored.

Cramer, C. et al (2017). Fairtrade and Labour Markets in Ethiopia and Uganda.

Altieri, M. A. & Toledo, V. C. (2011). The agroecological revolution in Latin America: rescing nature, ensuring food sovereignty and empowering peasants.